Simon Parke  
Click here for Abbot Peter Click here for Simon's blog Click here for Simon's books Click here for Simon's consultancy Click here for Simon's retreats
 
      Simon Parke with his latest book, The Indecent Death of a Madam   Cover of Conversations with Mozart   Cover of The Soldier, the Gaoler, the Spy and her Lover
 

Village conversations

CHAPTER 39

In the last episode, the parish prepared for a funeral – and experienced a rather unusual one. Late arrivals didn’t help proceedings. Or perhaps they did! For everyone spoke, it seemed, except the vicar – and Frank Sinatra! But Rex did have his moment at the graveside – with the robin.

The gathering at the manor went on long into the afternoon, with mulled wine, hot tea and expensive biscuits served by the ever-versatile Mr Johnson. But then, as he said to a surprised Rex: ‘We don’t all have vicarages! You have to make your money where you can, these days, reverend.’

He was assisted by Fat and Thin, his ambulance colleagues, who sometimes did shifts as relief caterers, if Mr Johnson was short of staff. His only stipulation was that they washed before any catering job:

‘In most ambulance pick-ups, because they’re dying, clients will not be too bothered how you smell. But at social functions, it’s different – people want to smell the food,’ he said.

Which snippets of village conversation you heard that afternoon really depended on where you happened to be, and when. As always, most of the most interesting stuff took place in the kitchen – though not all. Mrs Pump, for instance, never went near the kitchen.

*

Inky, Cadbury and Mrs Pump…

‘So why did you supply the Kid with all those things?’ asked Inky, who still hadn’t had an answer.

‘Ah! It’s GBH!’ said Mrs Pump, with some feeling.

‘You never told me why you did it?’ said Inky, ignoring the snide remark, and determinedly ploughing his furrow.

‘And I have to, do I?’ asked Mrs Pump. ‘I have to tell you?’

‘Cadbury thinks she might be your daughter!’

‘What a liar!’ said Cadbury. ‘You said you thought she was her daughter.’

‘Whatever,’ said Inky. ‘It’s an interesting idea, isn’t it, Mrs Pump?’

‘And a wrong one,’ said Mrs Pump.

‘Oh.’

‘I never had children, which is a sadness I live with. So I don’t know the Kid; and in truth, don’t especially wish to. But I do know what it’s like not to have a home. Does that explain things to your satisfaction?’

*

Rex and Mrs Post…

‘And have you thought about the headstone?’ asked Rex.

‘How do you mean?’ said Mrs Post.

‘What you wish to have engraved on it.’

‘Oh I see.’

‘How would you like future generations to remember your father?’

‘I had forgotten your obsession with gravestones; do you still talk with them?’

‘Hardly an obsession, Mrs Post! But I do walk by them everyday, so some sort of relationship must develop, I suppose.’

‘I was thinking of what Dr Hafiz said about the wild flower,’ said Mrs Post. ‘I liked that image. So perhaps just a wild flower carved in the stone.’

*

Jane and Patricia…

‘And we finally emerged into sunlight through a door in the remains of Café Disappointment!’ said Jane. ‘And what a relief that was!’

‘And a lit cave you say?’ said Patricia.

‘A remarkable geological feature. No one knows how the light got in. There must be an explanation, refraction or something, but it seemed as if it was just there – brighter than day!’

‘And is it still there beneath Misty Longings – this cave of golden light?’

‘We don’t know. It appeared to be collapsing as we left.’

Jane’s mind went back to the circle of solidarity amid the water spray and crumbling rock.

‘Oh, how I would love to have seen it!’ said Patricia.

‘I wish you could have seen it, my dear.’

‘It gives our beautiful village a whole new identity!’

‘It does indeed.’

‘But tell me,’ said Patricia lowering her voice. ‘What’s all this nonsense about Charles and Cromwell?’

‘Our very own ghost story.’

‘I love my history, Jane, as you well know, but it all sounds a bit far-fetched!’

‘I can’t argue with that,’ said Jane. ‘It felt far-fetched to me, and I was watching.’

*

Lord Jo and the Kid…

‘So you, little girl, found the mystery cave?’ said Lord Jo.

‘I did, yes. I found it by entering the hole everyone else was avoiding.’

‘Not surprised. What an eyesore!’

‘More a doorway, really.’

‘Yes – a doorway to trouble! I should have filled it earlier. Bet you regret going down now, eh!’

‘On the contrary – best thing I ever did.’

‘Dangerous to know, you are. Could have got everyone killed!’

‘So? There are worse things than an adventurous death.’

‘You’d make adventurers of us all, eh?’

‘It is why the cave is there.’

‘And you weren’t just a little bit scared?’

‘The only time I felt danger was when you filled in the hole,’ said the Kid. ‘Not your finest moment. Precipitate action on your part, born of panic; and your insanity threw me for a moment. It’s possible that you are the most dangerous one here.’

Lord Jo started laughing.

‘You could be right, my girl, and I like your style! You’d be a good site foreman.’

*

Mr Johnson, Billy – and the Kid….

‘I need a job, though,’ said Billy. ‘How am I going to find a job?’

‘What can you do?’ asked Mr Johnson.

‘Anything!’ said Billy.

‘That’s a good spirit.’

‘I want a place here,’ said Billy. ‘This is my home! I don’t want to be on the run anymore!’

At that moment, the Kid joined them.

‘You’re staying with me at the Tilting Tower,’ she said.

‘I am?’

‘Yes. The crows have just voted you in.’

‘Oh, I’d love that! Under the stars!’

‘And under the rain; it’s not all astral wonder.’

‘Doesn’t bother me,’ said Billy. ‘Doesn’t bother me at all! I could run through the rain all day long!’

‘Youth!’ said Mr Johnson, who increasingly – and after a lot of this and that in his life – preferred a hot bath and slippers.

‘So perhaps this is not the end of my story?!’ said Billy, knocking over some glasses of mulled wine in his excitement.

‘Nothing is the end of the story,’ said Mr Johnson, as he called over Fat and Thin to start clearing up the mess. ‘I was a footballer once…’

*

Mrs Pump and Dr Hafiz…

‘We could certainly think about it,’ said Dr Hafiz.

It had been Mrs Pump’s idea; that they should go into partnership in a new Health Centre scheme.

‘You can’t stay in the Dog and Whistle function room forever.’

‘The hygiene does leave a little to be desired’ agreed the doctor. ‘I did find some steak – or possibly kidney – in my stethoscope the other day.’

‘And if I became nurse/receptionist, we might be able to think a little bigger. You know the desperate need for healthcare in the area.’

‘It is a most wonderful idea, Mrs Pump, and the more I think about it, the more it excites me. For those sick in mind, body or spirit, we shall create an exquisite world of outrageous hope!’

‘Something like that.’

‘You will, of course, need to be nice to people.’

‘I can be very professional.’

‘Yes – I imagine you can be. And that’s probably what I need, in the absence of dear Azure – she always somehow kept me up to the mark.’

‘So I replace the cat?’

*

David and Mrs Post…

‘He tried to poison me,’ said David, ‘after revealing to me exactly what happened between him and Cadbury. I knew too much and had to go.’

‘Yes, well, I was never completely happy about that incident, and did investigate myself,’ said Mrs Post.

‘He said he sweetened you up with a bit of charm, some free booze and the hint of a knighthood.’

‘It was nothing like that at all.’

‘Like taking candy from a baby, he said.’

‘Well, obviously that’s nonsense.’

David took a sip of mulled wine, and felt a little trapped as you sometimes do at events like these.

‘So what will you do about it?’ asked Mrs Post.

‘It’s not what I will do – it’s what Cadbury will do,’ he said.

‘Cadbury?’

‘She is considering taking it further, yes. She’s very angry. I have said that I am prepared to witness on her behalf, if she so wishes; and if Alky lives.’

‘And will he – live?’

‘Well, the most recent message from the hospital is that he may be off the critical list tomorrow – the next few hours are crucial.’

*

Rex and Mr Johnson…

‘Glad you found use for it, then,’ said Mr Johnson.

‘Use for what?’

‘The coffin we dropped off the other night!’

‘It was you?’

‘Yes. We found Alky in it – but he wasn’t dead; not quite. So we took him to the hospital – and left the coffin somewhere we thought might appreciate it!’

‘Good move,’ said Rex.

‘Wasn’t sure at the time; thought it might give you a fright!’

‘No really, Mr Johnson – a very good move.’

*

Jane, Cadbury and Inky…

So Rose Cottage will be rebuilt,’ said Jane. ‘But it will be rebuilt as two homes. This would leave a vacant home for you two, should you wish it.’

Cadbury and Inky looked at each other excitedly.

‘I don’t want to hasten anything between you; I have never known love myself, but I’m told it’s a rocky road.’

‘Very rocky,’ said Inky. ‘Cadbury’s impossible.’

‘Whether she is impossible or not, I don’t know,’ said Jane. ‘But I do know she is most falsely named; for she is no fruit and nutcase. I trust that will soon be corrected?’

‘I’m returning to my real name,’ said Cadbury.

‘And that is?’

*

Lord Jo and Patricia…

And there were many other conversations, as you can imagine, and were they all to be included, truly, we would never get away. But just for the record, Lord Jo did propose to Patricia.

‘I’m a beast, obviously,’ he said.

‘True. But a beast who sometimes listens – after all, I did manage to persuade you to help out with the funeral.’

‘You did,’

‘And to lay on all this afterwards!’

‘Yes, that was your idea as well. But to help Mrs Pump find the holly – that was my decision. I don’t want you gate-crashing on all my goodness.’

‘I was impressed,’ said Patricia.

‘I’ve agreed it all with the vicar – next Saturday. The church is booked.’

‘Booked for next Saturday? How did you manage that? The vicar usually strings these things out for ages!’

‘How did I do it?’

‘Yes! How did you do it?’

‘It’s a very cheesy story, I’m afraid.’

*

Time passed.

Time does.

Things change.

The crocus became the primrose; the primrose became the daff; and the daff, the famous blue bell sea in Old Wood. And in time, yes, the velvet rose adorned the High Street once again.

Time passed.

Time does.

Things change.

The toads of Misty Longings made their way to the water, the foxes stretched their cramped winter legs, and the owls watched over all things – even the swallows arriving.

Lord Jo did marry Patricia, and not long after, Alky returned to the village.

‘One more crack at this old life thing!’ he said to himself as he stepped back into the High Street for the first time.

The new Rose Cottage slowly began to emerge, with Lord Jo ensuring minimum delay. Billy so shone as a hod carrier, that Lord Jo pencilled him in for the next big job in Lesser Needing.

‘Such energy!’ he said. ‘I can use arms like that.’

It would not be the old Rose Cottage, but a fresh one – a home fit for another 400 years; and Inky and Cadbury, of course.

The new tea rooms and bird sanctuary were only on the drawing board, but already looking good. Cadbury would manage the tea rooms, and David had agreed a price with Mr Johnson, to be the official ‘stopping point’ in his popular Misty Longings tourist trip. The development would also include the new health centre, which would take in Misty Longings, Deep Longings and Much Needing.

The Kid was offered various homes, but chose to stay with Billy and the gurgling crows in the Tilting Tower.

‘I too am the wild flower,’ she said.

And of course there beneath it all, the golden cave; the hidden glory of Misty Longings, and still inexplicably light.

‘I think it’s indestructible,’ said the Kid, as they marvelled one day about its continued existence. She had become the unofficial warden, and knew the caves like no one else.

The only access was through ‘Door Disappointment’, where once the café of that name had been; and villagers used it as they willed. It wasn’t advertised to the coach loads or anything; indeed it wasn’t really talked of at all. But there were cards about it in the church and post office; and somehow, those who sought the golden space, found the golden space.

‘When you have to go there, it has to let you in,’ as a villager said.

*

One summer’s day, Cadbury walked with Jane through cowslip lanes, and then along the old railway track. They climbed up onto the silent station platform, where once the train had arrived from London.

‘It’ll never come again?’ said Cadbury.

‘No,’ said Jane. ‘Those days are done.’

They stood in silence for a while.

‘It’s sad in a way.’

‘It is, yes.’

‘Vanishing England! I don’t like traditions dying.’

A cow mooed in a field nearby, and above them, a kestrel hovered, surveying the summer terrain.

‘It’s hard,’ said Jane. ‘But sometimes, my dear, like the robin, we must leave tradition’s grave.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘What is tradition, but people making do down the years? Trying to make good of the impossible lives they’re given.’

‘I suppose they are quite impossible, when you come to think of it!’

‘Well, we’ll carry it on, this tradition. We’ll make good our impossible lives – but in our own ways!’

‘So Misty Longings can still be beautiful, even though things change? I sometimes fear for the future.’

‘No more. As Dr Hafiz would say, ‘Fear is the cheapest room in the house – and you are worth much more!’

A combine harvester squeezed its careful way down the lane; a lane more suited to horse and cart.

‘I like Dr Hafiz.’

‘So do I, Cadbury.’

‘No – from here on, Jane, I’m Anemone.’

‘Anemone?’

‘My new name. Or rather, my old name; the name I lost.’

‘From the Greek anemos, meaning ‘wind’?’

‘That’s right. And from here on, I shall be like the wind, blowing gentle and hard – even if Inky does call me Captain Nemo.’

They listened for a while, for a train in the distance; and then Jane and Anemone made their way home. There were further adventures to prepare for in Misty Longings, England’s most beautiful village.


THE END

 

 
 

Picture postcard of The Village

More of The Village